How a Green Bloc Community helped one mom build a stronger connection with her neighbours

The rescued piano that’s a focal point in Hale Woolliam’s Green Bloc Community

Modern life is funny. We can live side-by-side with our neighbours — at times separated by only a thin wall — and still not really know who’s on the other side. We say, “Hello,” and exchange pleasantries, but for many, this life is wrought with isolation.

But in four Vancouver neighbourhoods, things are beginning to change. Neighbours have come together in collaboration on local greening and sustainability initiatives — like offering vegetarian cooking classes, or building a community garden — through the Green Bloc pilot program, and are building cohesion and inclusion in their communities as they go. We spoke with Jessica Hale Woolliams, a single mom of three who helped establish one of the pilots.

How did the Green Bloc project get started?

In January 2017, I was, like many people around the world, anxious about various global trends. So I reached out to neighbours to see if we could band together to do a one-year Green Bloc pilot. We needed a certain number of households — I can’t remember how many — I think twenty. We ended up with forty. I knocked on doors, talked to neighbours that closed their doors on my face, but many were really happy about exploring ways to reduce our environmental footprint and create more neighbourhood links — stronger connections, friendships, and ties between us.

Plans for the piano shade structure

What have you done as a Green Bloc?

We’ve done many projects and events through the year. Our legacy project is a sustainable mini-piano-shade structure that will give shade to a piano that would have otherwise gone to the dump. Nothing challenges consumer culture like neighbours that actually talk and make music together, and this is a project literally hundreds of people from our neighbourhood supported and worked to make possible. Right now two of BC’s leading green architects are donating their time to design the structure.

Why is it important?

It feels important in this part of history to take time to witness environment and social problems and to actively be part of the solutions — along with family, friends, and neighbours. Studies show people around the globe are deeply stressed by climate change and other environmental issues, and that small actions help reduce that stress. I want to show myself and my kids we can keep the ball moving forward. As economist E. F. Schumacher said, “Perhaps we cannot raise the winds. But each of us can put up the sail so that when the wind comes we can catch it.”

What does getting involved in your community bring to your life?

Getting involved in my community is important for me, and my kids, so they see women can be involved. One of the best courses I’ve ever taken in my life was from Swanee Hunt, in 2002 or 2003, who introduced me to research showing higher percentages of women in politics correlates with less corruption, higher percentages of women on corporate boards correlates with higher performing companies.

Tell us about some other moms that inspire you.

I’m inspired by the simple act of motherhood: it’s so demanding and so important. So many moms inspire me and keep me going when I face the inevitable exhaustion or challenges that come up — I can’t begin to list them all. My own mom’s an inspiration. She helps me on a weekly basis with my kids and she always has a loving smile, calm wisdom, and fresh perspective on whatever problems I might be facing.

And I’m lucky to live in a neighbourhood where moms support each other in a bunch of different ways. Recently I’ve been inspired by a couple of moms at my kids’ school — Sharon Mishler and Jacqui Thomas. They organized a group purchase of ukuleles for the kids at our school and organized a (surprise) flash mob of moms, teachers, and a few dads. We took over the school assembly (with permission) and played and sang the Bruno Mars song, ‘Count on Me,’ on our kids’ new uke’s. It was a riot.

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The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Come join us on Facebook.

 

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